The Scalpel and the Silver Bear

1331 words 6 pages
The Scalpel and the Silver Bear

The Navajo creation story explains that medicine was brought to the people by an ancient owl. This owl sent down a magic bundle containing the powers of healing to the new world. For thousands of years Navajo people have used this knowledge to heal and live in harmony with each other. As a product of two worlds, Dr. Lori Alvord was one of the first people to combine modern medicine with Navajo beliefs by overcoming cultural differences. The Scalpel and the Silver Bear follows Lori Alvord on her journey from humble beginnings on the Navajo Reservation to a surgeon in the operating room. She was raised in a small community
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While many of the students felt discomfort at the prospect of touching a dead body, for her this discomfort was on a completely different level. Alvord explains that the number one rule is Navajo culture is “do not touch the dead. Ever.” Evil spirits take over the body after the soul leaves at the person’s death; and to touch a corpse would cause the evil spirit to haunt you. Ultimately she was able to overcome her fears by reminding herself why she is there: to help her people.
Even her chosen profession, surgery, is the source of much contention with her traditional beliefs. Just as Navajos are very humble, they are also very private. Alvord was taught to respect other people’s privacy; even a light touch is seen as a violation of privacy. And sticking your hands into the body cavity of another person is an enormous invasion of privacy. Alvord describes her first experience with surgery as “an intimate adventure inside another person…that went against an instinctual core of my being.” She is touching parts of people that they themselves have never even seen! It is something so horrible, yet wonderful at the same time because it saves lives. Eventually her Navajo beliefs are reconciled with western medicine when she “comes to view surgery as the human body and earth working in harmony like a complicated dance, Arviso describes the movement of a surgical team as a form of choreography and compares gallbladder surgery to expressionist art.”
Many of the


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